Music and Politics is an open access, peer-reviewed, academic journal first published in 2007. More...

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Pedagogical Community: Music Education as Social Movement
Lauren Eldridge
Volume XII, Issue 2 (Summer 2018)


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Volume XIV, Number 2 (Summer 2020)
Current Issue

Introduction to Special Issue: The Politics of Musical Knowledge in the Soviet Union and Beyond (1930s−1980s)

Olga Panteleeva and Daniil Zavlunov

In the conversation about how to best move on from the exclusionary musicological canon, Marina Frolova-Walker’s “An Inclusive History for a Divided World?” and Alejandro Madrid’s “Diversity, Tokenism, Non-Canonical Musics, and the Crisis of the Humanities in US Academia” fall on the opposite sides of the spectrum. We could label their approaches assimilationist and abolitionist, respectively. Whereas Frolova-Walker maintains that those repertories (Soviet music, in this case) that have been unfairly left out from the master narrative of Western European music should be included in textbooks and histories as a part of the same research frameworks that animate research on Western modernisms, Madrid argues that exclusion is the canon’s raison d’être and that including marginalized repertories (Ibero-American music, in this case) would go against its purpose. The solution, according to him, is to reduce the disciplinary space disproportionately occupied by the Anglo-American version of the classical canon, thus freeing up space to study the other 99% of music on its own terms.

Defining and Defending Music Analysis in the Soviet 1930s

Daniil Zavlunov

The 1930s witnessed the full centralization of arts by the Communist Party, the rise of socialist realism, the hardening of official anti-formalism, and the terrors of Stalinism. During the same decade, Soviet music theorists attempted to establish the discipline of music analysis as a “scientific,” independent branch of Soviet “musicology.” This project required that music scholars define themselves for and against contemporaneous music theory, theory pedagogy, and music history—both Soviet and Western. Leading the charge were three Moscow theorists, who developed tselostnïy analiz (holistic analysis)—a new analytical method that claimed a multidimensional approach to studying musical works. This study examines select writings by holistic analysts and by their critics in order to illuminate the ideological and intellectual underpinnings of music analysis as practiced in the Soviet Union in the years between the centralization of arts in 1932 and the beginning of World War II in 1941.

The Politics of Atonality during the Thaw and Beyond

Inessa Bazayev

In official Soviet publications on contemporary music from the 1950s and 1960s, the terms “atonality” [atonal’nost’] and “twelve-tone music” [dvenadtsatitonovaya muzïka] were considered taboo. When used, they functioned to either smear the reputation of Soviet composers or condemn the works of their Western counterparts, especially members of the Second Viennese School. This was an extension of the preceding two decades of systematic repression of atonal experimentation. The story of Soviet music in those murky years, between the start of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1920s and Stalin’s death in 1953, is a familiar one, with long chapters on the activities of the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM), the Resolution on Arts (1932) and the imposition of the Socialist Realist aesthetic, denunciation of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District (1936), non-performance of Prokofiev’s works commissioned by the state (1936–1941), World War II, the onset of anti-cosmopolitanism, Zhdanovshchina with its anti-formalist campaigns of 1948 and 1949, and many, many others. This article concentrates on the years that followed—the Thaw and beyond. First, it examines the official criticism, written by prominent members of the musical community that included composers, conservatory professors, and students who published on the pages of Sovetskaya Muzïka (the state organ of Soviet musicology), targeting talented budding composers who were once again exploring atonality. Second, it juxtaposes that official stance and rhetoric with contemporaneous publications on atonality by arguably the most influential Russian theorist, Yuri Kholopov (1932–2003), who set out to re-legitimize atonality. Kholopov’s approach to analysis of atonal music (first by Russian and Soviet composers and later by Western ones as well) was an attempt to counter the official negative narrative—an attempt that combined Western and Russian theoretical thoughts. My argument here is that in order to legitimize atonality in Soviet music-theoretical discourse, Kholopov constructed an indigenous Russian genealogy for the concept, thus positioning it closer to the classics written in the tonal tradition—a move not unlike Schoenberg’s claim that his stylistic innovations were rooted in the Austro-German musical tradition.

Yuri Kholopov and Twelve-Toneness

Christopher Segall

Twelve-tone technique is a fluid construct, negotiated by different authors with different aims. Social, cultural, and political factors influence what qualifies as twelve-tone, thus determining how the history of twelve-tone composition is written. The Soviet encounter with twelve-tone music offers a case in point. As Peter Schmelz has documented, twelve-tone technique made a belated entry into Soviet composition when the “unofficial” young composers of the 1960s began experimenting with a practice that was already several decades old in Western Europe. Like twelve-tone composition, twelve-tone theory also got a late start in the Soviet Union. Soviet theorists of the 1960s–80s constructed a historical concept of twelve-tone technique without the scaffolding of an established discourse. Although authors such as Yuri Kholopov, the Soviet theorist who wrote most extensively on twelve-tone practice, quickly became versed in the relevant Western European and Anglo-American scholarship, their notion of twelve-tone technique departed from the tradition that consecrated the Second Viennese School. Kholopov’s concept of “twelve-toneness” (dvenadtsatitonovost’) encompassed a wider range of techniques than the equivalent idea in Anglo-American theory.

Paper Soldiers: Building Soviet-U.S. Musical Ties During the Second World War

Matthew Honegger

In 1925, in a bid to shield itself from armed invasion and capitalist intervention, the Soviet Union began to pursue cultural diplomacy. Cultural achievements, Soviet functionaries surmised, could be weaponized to secure a vulnerable state from the ill-intentions of an overwhelmingly hostile world. Acting alongside the conventional diplomacy of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs (NKID) and the revolutionary diplomacy of the Comintern, this “third dimension” would use ideological tourism and material exchanges to disseminate feats of socialist construction and turn foreign intellectuals and public figures into pro-Soviet advocates. Friends of the Soviet Union would, in turn, leverage their already-existing social prominence to pressure their governments to leave the Soviet Union alone, buying the state time to build socialism in peace. This was the Stalinist mode of building soft power, a task delegated to an organization called the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (Vsesoyuznoe obshchestvo kul’turnoy svyazi s zagranitsey), or VOKS.

Boris Asafyev’s Intonatsiya and German Folk Song in the German Democratic Republic

Anicia Timberlake

Art reflects the social relations that were in place at the time of its creation. About this Marxist truism, at least, East German musicologists agreed. The debates started when it came to how music in particular should reflect history: how, and where, the facts of the past took audible shape. East German musicologists spent the 1950s, the first decade of the German Democratic Republic’s existence, recasting a familiar idealist history of music in sociological terms. Following Lenin’s “reflection theory”—the notion that art reflected historical reality—musical styles were traced to social relations and the attitudes that composers held towards them. For instance, the two contrasting themes of sonata form reflected a growing general consciousness of the social contradictions of the late eighteenth century. However, reflection theory only stated that music reflected history: it offered no methodology for studying this phenomenon in an academically rigorous manner. For that, East German musicologists turned to the Russian-Soviet musicologist Boris Asafyev’s concept of intonatsiya.

“Music is an A-Political Subject”: North American Musicologists in the Soviet Union, 1960s-1970s

Olga Panteleeva

The apartment I’m in is sort of the local “night club.” Starting about 9 pm, the crowd begins to assemble around the miniature pool table in the kitchen. When 9 or more get in, an involuntary limit prevents others from entering, so now that I’ve conned the other Americans at the [Moscow State University] out of one of the two Embassy record players, the remaining crowd settles in the main bedroom to play and re-play the only two jazz records I have. . . . My roommates have spared me no scorn for not bringing good jazz records along. I asked Mr. Catherman . . . to please order some Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner, Dave Brubeck, Modern Jazz Quartet, etc., the next time he has some spare cash in the kitty.